Smell & Taste Disorders

A doctor holding a sniff stick up to a patient

The senses of smell and taste are closely linked. Human taste buds on the tongue typically detect sweet, sour, bitter, and salty substances. Our refined tasting ability, such as discriminating between two sweet objects (for example grape juice vs apple juice) is based upon our sense of smell. Thus when smell is diminished, most patients also suffer from impaired ability to taste. The most common reasons for altered taste and smell include chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), allergic rhinitis, viral infections, trauma, and medications. If the lost smell/taste is accompanied by infectious symptoms, then treatment will be as above for CRS or allergies. At times, a short burst of oral steroids may be useful. If the sense of smell recovers, then topical steroid sprays or drops can be used in an attempt to retain this. Patients who lose their sense of smell as a side effect of medication use may regain it when they stop the offending medication, however, some nasal sprays, such as those containing zinc, have resulted in permanent loss of smell. Traumatic injuries, such as car accidents or head trauma, may also result in permanent loss. MUSC Health is conducting research into reasons why patients lose their smell and taste in order to develop new therapies for this troubling problem.